New cladding tests delayed

New cladding tests delayed

THE TESTS on different materials used in cladding have been delayed by the government after the testing rig to be used at the Building Research Establishment (BRE) was damaged.

In February, the government announced it had widened its fire testing regime to include other materials than aluminium composite material (ACM), which could mean ‘potential uncertainty for thousands more residents’. Housing Minister Kit Malthouse ordered combustibility tests on cladding panels used on high rise residential blocks, hotels and student accommodation ‘that differ’ from ACM panels used on 437 buildings ‘identified so far’.

Research suggested that ‘at least’ 160 high rises have been built with materials used in rainscreen cladding systems ‘that have not been accounted for’ in prior government testing. These include high pressure laminate (HPL) panels made from compressed wood or paper fibre, used to produce ‘colourful skins for new buildings’, and some of which are classed as combustible.

Mr Malthouse stated that fire safety experts had updated guidance for the government, adding that ‘we have commissioned the Building Research Establishment to conduct a programme of testing on non-ACM materials and we expect that testing to start shortly’. He added that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) had been ‘cajoling’ private building owners to remove ACM panels, and was considering ‘more assertive’ measures.

Later that month, it was reported that the tests would begin in March and results would be published in the summer, but in March industry experts expressed ‘grave concerns’ over the ‘bespoke safety testing methodology’, which means that the tests have ‘no success or failure criteria’, and are ‘less comprehensive’ than those on ACM cladding conducted since Grenfell. They will also not include insulation, will not test cavity barriers and ‘will have no legal standing’,

Now, Inside Housing has reported that the tests have been delayed after the BRE rig was ‘damaged’, Mr Malthouse revealed after responding to a written question from Labour MP Steve Reed. He stated that ‘the test programme has not yet commenced because the test rig was damaged during a calibration test and has needed to be repaired. The schedule for the tests is being reappraised in the light of the delay to the start of the programme’.

The news outlet noted that the materials to be tested will include zinc composite material, copper composite material, aluminium honeycomb, HPL, brick slip systems and reconstituted stone, with the MHCLG commenting that the tests will now begin ‘over the coming weeks’, and are expected to finish in June.

More detail in Mr Malthouse’s reply included that the findings of the tests are ‘supposed to show’ the government what further action it should take, including ‘further testing at large scale and/or advice to building owners’.